The last Saturday in September marks the traditional start of the formal foxhunting season here in the Valley with the meet being held on the east lawn of the Wadsworth Homestead at the south end of Geneseo’s Main Street. From there, staff, hounds and subscribers (no guests allowed on opening day) proceed up Main Street past the Court House, down the driveway to the Hartford House, and on to the fields and woodlands north of the village.
For the 140th season opener, close to 100 horses and riders ‘trouped the colors’ up Main Street, providing the rare and unique sound of so many hooves clip-clopping on pavement. As the oldest hunt in the country still hunting its original territory, the Genesee Valley Hunt is alive and well, judging not only from the sheer number of hunt subscribers present, but also the age range of young teens to seventy-somethings taking part in the occasion.
Although the year’s foxhunting season actually began in early July, Opening Meet is the official end of the informal season where hounds are being trained and conditioned, new horses are being introduced to the sport, young foxes are leaving their dens and being dispersed throughout the territory, trails are being cleared, and crops are being brought in, leaving the way clear for a bit of earnest sport.
I always feel that I need to explain to those who are unfamiliar with the sport of riding to hounds, that there are no guns or shooting involved, that precious few foxes are ever actually killed and those are usually of the sickly or singularly unfortunate variety, and most of the blood spilled is that of the riders, as this is no sport for sissies.
The appeal of foxhunting is genuinely that of riding across country, enjoying nature’s beauty, while doing your darnedest to follow a pack of hounds trying to sort out the mysteries of scent and vulpine guile to ‘account for’ their quarry. In most cases this means putting the fox to ground or up in a tree. (Yes, foxes can climb trees and are more catlike than doglike).
Still, it is more often the case that the fox simply gives the pack the slip once it has toyed with them sufficiently to get a bit of exercise and becomes bored with the proceedings. In recent years, coyotes have also made their presence felt and can lead quite a breakneck pace before outrunning both horses and hounds.
Saturday’s sport offered a little something for everyone as a fox took the field on a tour of the Senator’s Woods behind Hartford House, giving all concerned both a good warmup and good music as hounds spoke eagerly on the line before getting outfoxed. On the next cast, hounds hit on a coyote line that took them due north at top speed all the way to Oxbow Lane, providing wonderful vistas of open countryside and the Valley, whereupon Master Marion Thorne decided to call it a day, having covered almost 15 miles.
Foxhunting will continue three days a week until cold and poor footing bring an end to the season, although formal hunting concludes the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so keep an eye out for hounds and horses if you see the sandwich board by the roadside urging caution.
I sincerely hope that these traditions of sport, camaraderie, and love of the outdoors will continue to be an element of what makes this part of the world so special for generations to come.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the GVH Race Meet always held on the second Saturday in October, a fun filled day of Horses, Hounds and Hoopla! For more information go here.